The AEC technology industry is teeming with solutions that seem to be addressing every conceivable process and workflow — we have solutions for each of individual design disciplines, design visualization, analysis and simulation tools, multidisciplinary design collaboration and coordination, reality modeling, project management, project information management, construction planning, construction management, estimating, scheduling, construction field management, as well as post-construction facility management. But as I recently learnt, there is one aspect of the process that is still underserved by technology, and this is the preconstruction process, which is where the cost, schedule, planning, and logistics of a project are nailed down before the construction can begin.
ConCntric is a new web-based collaborative platform specifically developed to manage preconstruction in a more advanced way, allowing all the stakeholders that are involved at this stage to jointly strategize on what exactly will be built and how.
Before moving on to explore the platform, let’s take a brief look at the actual process of preconstruction for the benefit of those (like me), who may not be familiar with it.
The four stages of a building project from a construction perspective are planning, preconstruction, construction, and close-out. (Reference: https://stonemarkcm.com/blog/4-essential-phases-construction/.) The planning stage typically involves the owner, architect, and construction manager. Here, the scope and feasibility of the project is determined and the approvals from regulatory authorities are sought. At this stage, the architect completes the SD (schematic design) and possibly DD (design development), depending upon what has to be submitted for approval — you need to have some idea of what you want to build and whether you can build it in the location you want. The approvals need to come through, otherwise there is no point in moving ahead. Also, at this stage, the owner needs to have some idea of what it would cost, and this initial estimate is based on the project type, size, and location, using an approximate cost per sq ft.
Once the approvals come through, the preconstruction process commences. The architect moves on to finish design development (DD) — if that has not yet been done in the planning phase — and starts working on the construction documents (CDs). On the construction side, the preconstruction phase is typically handled by a dedicated construction manager, who may be a representative of the general contractor or from an independent company. The main task at this stage is to finalize what is going to be constructed, taking into consideration the design, the estimate, and the schedule. Possibly, some elements of the design need to be changed or deleted altogether to satisfy cost and time constraints. This is something that all the participants at this stage jointly work on, which is why it is beneficial to have a collaboration platform where different strategies can be discussed.
Any approved changes to the design are incorporated in the new set of CDs by the architect, and the process continues iteratively until there is a finalized set of CDs, estimate, and schedule for the construction to commence. The process can take anywhere from 3 to 36 months, depending upon the size and the complexity of the project. A well-done preconstruction process is critical to making the next phase, the construction, run much more smoothly, in alignment with the planned budget and schedule, and with less change orders and any other issues that could derail the project.
In terms of the type of project delivery, while preconstruction is also done on conventional Design-Bid-Build projects, newer and increasingly popular forms of project delivery such as Design-Build and Construction Manager at Risk (CMaR) have the added benefit of allowing the contractor to be pulled in as a partner earlier on in the process and help to guide the design so that it meets the budget and time constraints. The contractor at this stage is not just providing an estimate on the architect’s design but is also monitoring it to make sure it comes in at budget, taking into consideration the implications on the project schedule, providing input on choosing construction materials and techniques that will fit within the schedule and the budget, and so on.
Despite the advances in AEC technology in the past decade, preconstruction is still, by and large, a highly manual and fractured collection of processes. Essential information is kept in scattered Excel spreadsheets and Word documents which limits understanding and does not make it easy to have a clear view of the full picture of a project. The objective of ConCntric, spearheaded by a construction industry executive with decades of hands-on experience doing preconstruction, is aimed at eliminating these silos and providing a platform where all the participants in the preconstruction process can collaborate with up-to-date information and see the impact of all preconstruction decisions in real time.
The platform is typically commissioned by the company leading the preconstruction process and as shown in Figures 1 and 2, they would likely have multiple projects on the platform that they are involved in. In addition to showing the projects, the Home screen provides a consolidated view of the entire portfolio of the company, showing all of its preconstruction projects with portfolio-wide KPI's and analytics. The data is aggregated and assimilated into different views such as costs, fees, schedules, open action items, upcoming deadlines, portfolio diversity, etc., which are important not just for preconstruction planning and resource allocation but also for getting an overall sense of the business.
Selecting a project from the Home screen takes you to its Dashboard which provides a detailed overview of its key metrics, and which is available to the entire preconstruction team of that project (Figure 3). They can dynamically visualize the trend and the trajectory they are on in terms of the cost of the project, as indicated by the solid blue line in the graph in relation to the red line which is the owner’s target. In the example shown in Figure 3 (which is of a fictitious project), the estimated cost of the project went up slightly as the design got more fleshed out going from the SD to the DD phase.
The project team can now jointly strategize on how to course-correct, so that the cost is brought down by the next project milestone, the 75% CD phase. This is indicated by the dashed blue line on the graph in Figure 3, showing that the team has identified ways to bring down the cost. The actual strategizing for this is done in the ForeSite Suite of the platform as described in the following section.
The value engineering process in ConCntric, where the preconstruction team strategizes about different ways to move the project forward, is enabled through the ForeSite functionality of the platform. As shown in Figure 4, ForeSite allows different scenarios to be modeled for value engineering, also referred to as “value optioneering.” The different ideas that the team members come up with are tracked in a log. Ideas that are approved will impact the estimate for the upcoming project milestone and will be reflected in its graphical display, which also appears in the project Dashboard that was shown earlier in Figure 3
For each strategy or idea that is being proposed, the detailed view shows its cost implication and the impact on the design, such as the idea to “Delete 1 level of parking” shown in Figure 5. Associated images can be added for clarification, allowing the stakeholders to better understand the idea. The team members can conduct a collaborative discussion on the idea via comments, which are tracked in the platform, and they can collectively decide whether to approve or reject it. If the idea is approved, the change in the estimate is captured by the dashed blue line.
Suggested items can be grouped into scenarios. An example is shown in Figure 6, where a number of items have been added to a scenario that will result in a “big deduction” — a substantial savings in cost. Selecting this scenario will show its impact graphically, as indicated by the solid blue line going to the right of the 75% CD phase. This makes it easier for the team to model different scenarios comprising multiple strategies, see their impact in relation to the desired budget (indicated by the horizontal red line), and approve the ones they would like to adopt.
It should be noted that not all ideas being considered during preconstruction are aimed at reducing the cost of the project. For example, the idea to “Upgrade Lobby Stone,” shown in Figure 7, enhances the design and adds to the cost of the project rather than reducing it. Thus, the preconstruction process is really about fine-tuning the details of the project and is not just focused on cost-cutting strategies.
Additional capabilities of ConCntric include the ability to quickly set up projects and add members with different permission levels; set up the project timeline with key milestones (Figure 8); define the higher-level components of the project along with their individual estimates (Figure 9); as well as import estimates from applications such as Excel, Destini, Winest, and Sage (Figure 10).
And finally, there is Calibrate, which is a comparison tool that allows the company to compare the current project with its prior projects to understand how the project is performing. This comes into play once the company has several projects on the platform. So, for example, if the current project is an office project, the tool will pull in data from the company’s other office projects on the platform, allowing the costs to be compared. The costs of earlier projects are normalized, automatically bringing them up to current value. This allows a company to more easily identify a project that may be an outlier, as shown in Figure 11. You can drill down into a more granular level of detail such as Division to pinpoint what exactly might be responsible for the overbudget situation.
I found the interface of ConCntric very user-friendly and easy to navigate, and the fact that it is being developed by a construction industry veteran with years of hand-on preconstruction experience gives it a lot of credibility. Which is why, despite being so new, the application has racked up some promising customers and testimonials, such as this by Mike Vitkovich, Director of Preconstruction at Pankow: “As a design-builder, we were looking for a holistic solution that would help us take collaboration during the preconstruction process to another level, and we've found that in ConCntric's platform.”
The importance of preconstruction in AEC projects is increasing, and the research firm, FMI, estimates that by 2025, 87% of all projects will involve some form of collaborative preconstruction activity. This is promising news, not just for ConCntric as it attempts to modernize the hitherto archaic preconstruction process and bring it up to speed with other AEC processes that have long been revolutioned by technology, but also for the AEC industry as a whole as it will help to ensure that the construction process is more streamlined, more efficient, and more likely to meet the budget and schedule constraints of the project.
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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